Cole McDonald is just a week away from realizing a lifelong dream. After opting to turn pro with one year of college eligibility remaining, the former Hawaii quarterback will latch on with a new team when the NFL Draft takes place from April 23-25.
As much uncertainty as the coronavirus has caused to the current draft class, 255 players will be selected by NFL franchises next week to officially begin their careers. McDonald can almost taste it. At the same time, he’s also making sure he won’t forget those that put him in the positon he’s in today.
“It’s been good reflection time,” McDonald told KHON2 Sports Director Rob DeMello. “Just in terms of my career, my journey, what I represent. The people that have supported me that I kind of play for.
“It’s all just coming into main focus right now, just why I’m playing this and why I’m doing this and what it means to me. Going forward, it’s pretty eye-opening and a real blessing.”
COVID-19 concerns have halted the draft process for every prospect, bar none. McDonald was training near his home in Southern California when the pandemic hit. Still, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound gunslinger is finding ways to maintain his physique.
“Just trying to find different places to train here and there. Whether it’s throwing in the backyard, anything you can find to just get that edge to stay in shape,” he said. “Right now you can’t really build because obviously you don’t have the gyms and facilities to do so unless you do at your house already. Right now, it’s just about maintaining, staying in shape, so when the doors do open back up, you can go back in and grind out and pick up where you left off.”
Shortly after declaring, McDonald linked up with former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer to train for the NFL Scouting Combine and now-cancelled pro day and workouts with teams.
Among McDonald’s training partners was former LSU quarterback and 2019 Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, the likely No. 1 pick, and former Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, who is drawing high praise as a dark horse in the quarterback class.
McDonald is drawing some pre-draft buzz himself. After throwing for 8,032 yards and 70 touchdowns in his UH career, he earned a coveted invite to the combine in February, where his 4.58 40-yard dash and 36-inch vertical jump was tops among quarterbacks.
Training under Palmer, with names such as Burrow and Love, could have been intimidating. But to McDonald, he quickly learned he belongs among those names.
“He helped me out a ton,” McDonald said of Palmer. “Just being around those guys, picking their brains, seeing what they’re good at, seeing what I’m better than them at some things, and just taking something of value from each of those players. Whether it’s their mindset or something that they do, how they think, how they interact, just trying to take full notion of that and go forward and make it kind of my own thing, make myself and my game better.
“That’s kind of been what I’m trying to do — just being on that high level of competition and also talent, so it’s been pretty cool just competing with those guys and getting better.”
Though he in all likelihood won’t get picked as high as names like Burrow, Love, or former Saint Louis quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, McDonald is still generating praise as one of the draft’s diamonds in the rough to analysts such as ESPN’s Todd McShay.
Colt Brennan was the last Hawaii alum drafted as a quarterback when he was selected 186th overall by the Washington Redskins in 2008. If McDonald gets selected before that, he’d be the highest draft pick at quarterback in program history. Former ‘Bows quarterback Raphel Cherry was the 122nd overall pick in 1985 by the Redskins, but he was selected as a defensive back.
Larry Arnold, a former honorable metnion All-American QB for the ‘Bows was selected 308th overall in 1970 by the Rams, back when the NFL Draft was five rounds longer than it is today.
No matter how high McDonald gets picked or where ends up if he doesn’t, there will be no regrets in knowing he did what he could.
“It’s been cool just to see your name in general. It’s not something that you see every day. When I look back, whether I do make it, whether I don’t make it, I can say I worked as hard as I could to be in that position and I gave it my all,” he said. “Just being patient, just working hard and trusting everything, trusting God’s plan.”